The View From The Colonies
On NPR’s All Songs Considered of June 10, critic Tom Moon was asked his highlights of the year so far. He answered this way: “I made a list of all the things I didn’t like and got over hyped. At the top of that list is the Arctic Monkeys which is this thing that I hope goes away, because I just don’t get it.”
Moon is not alone in this regard. Rarely have I known a British band divide the American music media like Alex Turner and his Sheffield chums. In fact, you would probably have to go back to The Smiths to find a similar example: both are/were northern English groups given to singing about small-town Britain in the local vernacular, and each with a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ cockiness that infuriates American critics. Both were considered too parochial to cross over in America, and yet The Smiths, certainly, became the chosen band of a young American generation. As for the Monkeys, I’ve seen negative reviews follow their tour around America, I’ve heard many more people than Tom Moon declare “I just don’t get it,” and I’ve heard my share of industry insiders declare that the group’s debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not has “under-performed” in the USA. Ok, so it’s not even in the Top 100, but at last count, it had sold over 200,000 copies – and this from a group barely out of its teens that had not even released a single this time last year. If that’s under-performing, I want some of it!
And if the Monkeys are “over-hyped,” someone forgot to tell “the kids.” This Wednesday, Arctic Monkeys play a long sold-out show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City, a venue that holds a solid 4,000 people. Americans like going to gigs, it’s true, but they are famously spoiled for choice, and you have to be more than just the media’s flavor of the month to sell that many tickets. And maybe that’s the point: that the Arctic Monkeys have by-passed much of the hip American media and connected straight with the record and ticket-buying audience.
Though we were talking about it here excessively at time of release, I never got round to writing a review of Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. Seems a little late now, so I’ll keep my opinions to the basics. It’s a great debut album, certainly, its visceral energy, deliberately shabby production and sharp narrative well worthy of enthusiasm and admiration – and all the comments we made about the group “speaking to” or “reflecting on” the lives of teenage Britain holds true. But I can’t get around the fact that the best song on the record is still the first song I heard by the Arctic Monkeys: ‘Fake Tales Of San Francisco,’ a piece of prescient song-writing about wanna-be rock stars and their inflated egos so far beyond Taylor’s years that I’m genuinely nervous he will never again write something so true. I find it yet more disconcerting that the original version pisses all over that on the album – and was further put off by the fact that the B-side ‘Bigger Boys And Stolen Sweethearts’ was not only kept off the album, but is better than most tracks it gave way to.
I want to believe I’m wrong – that maybe the album was just recorded in an enthusiastic hurry, and that the group felt spoiled for song choices. If you don’t believe the hype – and remember, Alex Turner opened the video for ‘I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor’ with those very words – you can still believe in their potential. And so for that reason, I’m already looking beyond this album and eagerly anticipating the follow-up. That will be the true test of their talent.